Halloween is haunted-house season, the one time of year you when, if you want, you can pay a random group of actors to fill up an old warehouse with gory props and costumes and scare the snot out of some people. But if you’re looking for a subtler, truly frightening experience, America is full of houses that really are haunted (well, maybe).

Real ghosts don’t need bloody hockey masks and chain saws to scare you on the spookiest of nights. If you’d prefer a genuine fright on All Hallows' Eve, here are five truly haunted houses you can tour (or even stay in) during the spooky season:

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House (see photo at top) is a sprawling Victorian mansion as strange and bizarre as its former owner, the eccentric widow Sarah Winchester, an heiress to the eponymous rifle empire. But to its credit, this home is the only one on our list where no one was murdered. After the death of her infant child and her husband, Sarah Winchester was convinced she was being haunted by the spirits of people who had died at the business end of a Winchester rifle. So when she moved to San Jose, California, she spent 38 years building a home that would encourage visits from good spirits—and gave her plenty of escape routes and tricks to avoid the bad ones.

The house has hidden doors and pathways, and was built without blueprints because the widow only made plans based on what spirits told her during her nightly séances. There are stairways that go to nowhere and doors that open to walls. And if you’re lucky, while you’re there you’ll hear an organ play or even see the shadowy ghosts of former servants. But don't wander from the tour, because you could be lost in the house ... forever.

The Lemp Mansion

Lemp Mansion
Google Street View

It’s a bit sad to think that the people who brought lager beer to St. Louis are also a family with a dark and haunted history of murder and suicide, not the least of which surrounds the Lemp Mansion. But even though the Lemp beer empire has long since ended, the name lives on in the form of a very haunted house. You can join fans of the Lemp Mansion at any number of events, take a tour if you’re interested in seeing some ghosts, and even spend the night if you feel like getting the full Lemp haunting experience.

You might be visited by the ghost of William J. Lemp, who was just one in a line of Lemp men to shoot himself in his home. Or you could experience the delightful aroma of the Lavendar Lady, or see the creepy visage of the “monkey-faced boy” (reportedly an illegitimate son who was locked in the attic) in an upstairs window. The Lemp family was haunted by tragedy, and now they are haunting back. Or maybe they just want some beer.

The Villisca Ax Murder House

On a warm June night in 1912, at a small house in a small town in Iowa, a family of six and their two young guests were bludgeoned to death with an axe while they slept. The killer was never found. This is what puts Villisca, Iowa, on the map. If you like ghosts and want a chance to meet one, take a tour of the Villisca Ax Murder House.

For those of you who carry a badge of courage, you can even pay to stay there and be creeped out all night long. If nothing else, the strange story of what went on in the house that night more than a century ago plus subsequent murders in the Midwest that same year—as well as the futile search for the killer (and several false accusations)—are all fascinating.

Lizzie Borden House

Lizzie Borden may or may not have hatcheted her parents to death in this house.
Google Street View

If axe murders interest you, but going to Iowa doesn’t, then a tour of Lizzie Borden’s house in New England may be the way to go. Lizzie Borden became an American horror icon when she was found not guilty of using a hatchet to bludgeon her parents to death while at home one hot August day.

After a lengthy trial and a quick acquittal, a jury decided that prosecutors couldn’t prove Lizzie had killed her parents, but no one else was ever charged with the crime. So, of course, the ghosts of the victims are bound to walk the earth seeking justice for their untimely deaths. And it’s likely the ghost of poor, ostracized Lizzie, who lived in the same town as a suspected murderer for another 35 years, probably also wanders between realms hoping someone will finally forgive her. You can tour the home with a costumed guide, or strap on your courage and stay overnight in what is now a rather spooky bed and breakfast. Don’t worry ... seeing a headless ghost isn’t that frightening.

The Myrtles Plantation

The South is home to many, many ghost stories, so it’s not difficult to believe that a Louisiana plantation is known as “one of America’s most haunted houses.” The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville has all the antebellum charm and old-fashioned Southern-ghost-story spookiness you could ever want. Not only is this old house rumored to have been built on an Indian burial ground, it was also the place of death for several people (including children) and at least one murder. Some sources say the house is haunted by as many as 12 different ghosts. It’s been the subject of numerous paranormal mystery shows.

The Myrtles Plantation is operated as a bed and breakfast, so you’re welcome to visit and wait to hear a piano play on its own, see furniture that moves without being touched, wake up to find yourself completely tucked into your bed, or find mysterious handprints. If that's too much, you can always just take a tour and not spend the night. But where's the fun in that?

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